Feature: The Ave
Category: seattlepi.com teaser headlines
University Way has had its darker days, but the street everyone calls "the Ave" is nothing if not resilient
Every so often, say during a too-rare tidying spree, I stumble across the quaintly flowered box that contains my cache of old print photos. I can’t resist revisiting my personal anthropology as I uncover soft black-and-white Kodak prints from my idyllic tow-headed baby days in the 1960s, early color prints and psychedelic-hued 1970s Polaroids from my carefree elementary- and middle-school years, and the densely colored but oddly flat (except for the permed hair) 1980s double prints from my awkward high school and earnest collegiate times.
I think some neighborhoods exhibit a similar identity arc (while others lack personality altogether), and that their fitful maturation can be as graphically traced, complete with dramatic photo array. This is definitely the case with “the Ave,” the long-held nickname of University Way Northeast, which runs south to north from Northeast Pacific Street to Ravenna Boulevard in the University District (though most consider its heart to be the 10 or so blocks running north from Campus Parkway by Schmitz Hall). Maybe it’s because I’ve routinely walked some of its blocks during my formative phases (I spent hours at Costa’s Restaurant bogarting tables during college), but I’ve always thought the Ave is the most human of the neighborhood thoroughfares in Seattle. And just as I sometimes fret, “What happened?!” when contrasting my old photos with current reality, I wonder about the Ave. Like many of us, it enjoyed a happy childhood (pleasantly Pleasantville and all booming business, 1940s and 1950s), survived a risk-taking but rich adolescence (street-preaching radicals and activist professors, Vietnam protests and hippie riots, ’60s and ’70s) and indulged in a vaguely depraved young adulthood (drug, crime, panhandler waves and business busts, ’80s and ’90s).
Then there’s now. And much as I occasionally speculate about myself, I question whether the Ave is bound for a resurgent middle-age grace or a humiliating midlife crisis.
While most of my childhood took place in Redmond and Kirkland, I spent some of my best days at my maternal grandparents’ house in Wallingford. I remember well their bathroom, tiled in 1950s-style black and white, where I would watch from the “throne” as my grandmother prepared for an outing. Her final touch was selecting the day’s shade from the gold filigree carousel that held her arsenal of lipsticks. That was my cue we were about to depart, and one of my favorite excursions was accompanying my grandparents to their work on the Ave.
I don’t remember too clearly the Ave’s late-’60s hippie heyday (the hippies probably don’t, either), but I do recall that below 45th Street, where my grandfather manned his barber chair (at the still-operating University Ave. Barbering) and grumbled over the grooming habits of the long-haired hippies, the street smells got decidedly more fragrant (read: head shops) as one traveled along. It was a funkier vibe than north of 45th, where my grandmother worked the counter at Parklane Hosiery, near Porter Jensen Jewelers, selling gloves and nylons to the ladies who still lunched. Whatever the block or character type, I did feel the Ave’s safety and still-small-town warmth.
This concentration of micro-boroughs continues to be a distinct feature of the Ave. “It’s funny, almost every block to me has its own personality,” says Scott Soules, a third-generation property owner whose portfolio includes the buildings housing Häagen-Dazs, M.J. Feet and Café Solstice. He roughly pinpoints 41st to 43rd streets as College Town; 4